Finding Literary Inspiration on "Library Way"

By Lauren Lampasone, Adult Librarian, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL)
April 1, 2022
plaque on Library Way

Photo: Jonathan Blanc/NYPL

Ask NYPL gets a lot of questions about the sidewalk on "Library Way". If you haven't seen it before, on your next trip to the main building on Fifth Avenue, be sure to approach from the east and walk along 41st Street. You'll have a perfect view of the building gleaming in the morning sun, and you can stop to read some inspirational quotes about reading, writing, and literature along the way.

The sidewalk plaques—a celebration of the world's great literature— are a collaboration between Grand Central Partnership and the New York Public Library. The sculptor is Gregg LeFevre. 

Below you can find the text of the quotes and photographs of some of the plaques. We hope you can explore them yourself in person! 

plaque on Library Way


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.

William Styron (1925-2006)

Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997)

All things are words of some strange tongue, in thrall
To Someone, Something, who both day and night
Proceeds in endless gibberish to write
The history of the world. In that dark scrawl
Rome is set down, and Carthage, I, you, all,
And this my being which escapes me quite,
My anguished life that's cryptic, recondite,
And garbled in the tongues of Babel's fall.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (A.D. 121-180)

Those of you, lost and yearning to be free,
who hear these words, take heart from me.
I was once in as many drafts as you.
But briefly, essentially, here I am...
Who touches this poem touches a woman.

Julia Alvarez (1950- )

Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you'll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you'll be in as much trouble as I am!

Jerome Lawrence (1915-2004) and Robert E. Lee (1918-1994)

Remarks are not literature.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

plaque on Library Way


A poem doesn't do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person's poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

Truth exists. Only falsehood has to be invented.

George Braque (1882-1963

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

There was something about the vibrating empty rooms first thing in the morning — light falling through the great tall windows, the sun burning the smooth tops of the golden tables as if they had been freshly painted — that me restless with the need to grab up every book, press into every single mind right there on the open shelves.

Alfred Kazin (1915-1998)

...At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.
"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.
"Camelot," said he.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.

Tom Stoppard (1937- )

plaque on Library Way


The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.

Kate Chopin (1851-1904)

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction—it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

...the reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries—

René Descartes (1596-1650)

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

I want everybody to be smart. As smart as they can be. A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

Garson Kanin (1912-1999)

People work much in order to secure the future; I gave my mind much work and trouble, trying to secure the past.

Isak Dinesen (1885-1962)

In the reading room in the New York Public Library
All sorts of souls were bent over silence reading the past,
Or the present, or maybe it was the future, patrons
Devoted to silence and the flowering of the imagination...

Richard Eberhart (1904-2005)

plaque on Library Way


There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

Willa Cather (1873-1947)

the mind is an enchanting thing
is an enchanted thing
like the glaze on a
subdivided by sun
till the nettings are legion.

Marianne Moore (1889-1972)

Now, on my heart's page
there is no grid to guide my hand,
no character to trace,
only the moisture,
the ink blue dew
that has dripped from
the leaves.
To spread it I
can't use a pen,
I can't use a writing brush,
can only use my life's
gentlest breath
to make a single line of
marks worth puzzling over.

Gu Cheng (1956-1993)

I don't know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.

E.B. White (1899-1985)

Vladimer: What do they say?
Estragon: They talk about their lives.
Vladimer: To have lived is not enough for them.
Estragon: They have to talk about it.
Vladimer: To be dead is not enough for them.
Estragon: It is not sufficient.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

plaque on Library Way


If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

The rose fades
and is renewed again
by its seed, naturally
but where
save in the poem
shall it go
to suffer no diminution
of its splendor.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)

Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Someone is reading in a deepening room
Where something happens, something that will come
To happen again, happening as many times
As she is reading in as many rooms.
What happens outside that calm like water braiding
Over green stone? The ones of little reading
Or who never read for love, are many places,
They are in the house of power, and many houses...

Robert Pinsky (1940- )

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I chose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

plaque on Library Way


The knowledge of different literatures frees one from the tyranny of a few.

José Martí (1853-1895)

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and i keep on remembering

Lucille Clifton (1936- )

Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. 

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

When there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good persons is but knowledge in the making.

John Milton (1608-1674)

I love the old melodious lays
Which softly melt the ages through,
The songs of Spenser's golden days,
Arcadian Sidney's silver phrase,
Sprinkling on our noon of time with freshest morning dew.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)